The Adventures of Perly Monroe
Spellin’ Bees and Strangers ~ Chapter 3
Perly sat up in bed. “What was that?” asked Grant from his bed.
Another gunshot rang out into the moonlit night followed by the sound of Pa’s angry voice. “You scat, you hear critter!” The hens kept squawking a few minutes longer.
“Don’t’ be worryin’ “Perly said. “Just something thinking it would be all sneaky and get a free chicken dinner.”
Perly could hear the door shut and the sound of Pa moving through the kitchen beneath where he and Grant slept.
“Time to git some shuteye, Grant,” Perly settled back against his pillow.
“Tomorrow is goin’ to be a big day at school. “
But the only sound Perly heard were the soft sounds of Grant’s breathing. It had already been a big day. Perly was thankful that everything turned out fine.
It seemed like Perly had barely closed his eyes when he heard someone calling his name.
“Perly! Grant!” called Mama from downstairs. “You boys best be getting’ up and hurrying along with your chores ‘fore you find yourselves late for the school bell.”
Perly hurried down the attic ladder while Grant, still groggy from sleeping so soundly and sore from being bounced down the river in a fight for his life, dawdled behind him. Today was the spelling bee. The entire school had been studying for weeks, so Perly wanted to make sure he was there when the school bell rang. The best part was that this was the last day of school.
Perly walked through the back door, milk pail in hand, and headed toward the barn where Molly, the milk cow, would be waiting.
It took about 30 minutes to do morning chores. This morning, Perly worked extra fast. The smell of sizzling sausage let him know that breakfast was almost ready.
He carried the pail of milk to the back porch where Miss Nancy would let it sit long enough for the rich cream to rise to the top and scoop it into a wooden bucket. There was something about the rich cream that made the best butter. While he was usually the one in charge of milking Molly, Cordillia had been the one to churn it. The large slabs of pressed butter from the wood molds were a popular request of the local hotels.
Perly washed his hands in the basin next to the door, walked into the kitchen, and sat down at the long wood table. Grant, having finished his morning chores, followed closely behind him.
“Grant,” Mama spoke up as she put the sausages onto a large plate. “Have those hens taken the day off, or did you forget to bring in the eggs?”
Grant quickly turned back around and headed out the back door to retrieve the forgotten basket.
“Land sakes, if that child’s head ain’t about to plumb fall off,” she continued as she pulled a tin of piping hot biscuits from the wood stove.
“Maybe he took a harder hit on the head than Ol’ Doc Harrison thought,” added Miss Nancy.
“Mama, he’s jist nervous about the spillin’ bee I reckon.” Cordillia was almost two years younger than Grant, but she was always trying to sound grown-up.
Four year old Clay spoke up. “What is the bee spillin? Is the spillin’ bee have a stinger like a honey bee?”
“No, Clay.” replied Cordillia. “It is a spellin’ bee! Not a spillin’ bee, silly. It is where everyone at school tries to outsmart each other by spellin’ words. The winner gets a peppermint stick!”
“Ohh,” Clay nodded his head.
“I don’t see no need for all that worry,” replied Perly, taking a hot biscuit and putting it onto his plate. “I aim to be a hard workin’ man, not a hard thinkin’ one.”
Andrew walked in and set a few pieces of wood he was carrying next to the stove.
“Perly Monroe, I don’t want to hear such talk. I aim to see that you get a good learnin’. Mr. Markham is a fine teacher. You should be thankful.”
“Yes, Pa.” Perly felt his face get hot and looked at his plate. He knew that his pa’s first goal after they arrived in Coloma was to learn to read and write. Perly remembered seeing Pa study by lamplight after a hard day’s work.
“Getting’ educated is the best thing a man can do for himself. Don’t you forget that now.” Pa gave Perly a warm smile. “Besides, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with bein’ a hard workin’ man and a hard thinkin’ one.”
“Well, if these children don’t leave soon there won’t be any educatin’, “ Miss Nancy spoke up from the porch where she was snapping beans. Grant came in and handed Mama the half empty egg basket.
“That was all there was today,” Grant said, seeing the questioning look on Mama’s face.
“What ever was getting’ those hens all worked up last night must have helped themselves to a few eggs before bein’ startled last night,” Pa said.
“Did you see what it was?” asked Clay. “Hope it don’t try stealin’ into our house.”
“I’m sure it was just some critter thinking ‘bout an easy meal. Just glad they didn’t grab hold of the hens,” said Pa.
“I told you I was thinkin’ the hen house needed tendin’ to,” came Miss Nancy’s voice.
“I know, Miss Nancy. It is the first thing on my list this morning.” Pa smiled.
“We bet be gettin’,” said Cordillia, who was making sure her new hair ribbon was tied just right.
Mama handed Grant his lunch tin and a biscuit to eat on the way to school. “You’ll do jist fine,” she whispered reassuringly.
“Thanks Mama,” Grant replied as he walked out the door behind Perly and Cordillia. He ran to catch up. Sam and his little sister were waiting at the end of the lane.
The school bell rang just as they all took their seats. Perly and Rufus Burgess sat in the fifth row. Grant and Sam Wimmer sat in the desk in front of them.
The Burgess family lived just down the lane form the Monroe-Gooch Farm. Monty Burgess was a blacksmith. Perly loved going over to the Burgess’ shop. Mr. Burgess often let Perly pump the large bellows to fan the glowing orange embers needed to heat up the metal. Once in a while, Perly even got to use the hammer and strike the pliable hot iron against the anvil until it flattened out.
“Someday, I’m going to be a blacksmith,” Perly told Miss Nancy when she scolded him after a hot spark burned a hole in the bib of his overalls.
Perly looked over at Rufus. It was going to be another adventure filled summer full of fishin’ and hopefully they could start tomorrow, first thing in the morning.
Perly was thinking about his favorite fishing spot when Mr. Markham called the class to attention to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which they did every day before class started.
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Soon, the spelling bee was under way. Students went several rounds before anyone was eliminated. Finally, it was down to six students.
When the contest was over Susan Burgess had won first place. Perly ended up in fifth place, but he didn’t care. He was just glad it was over.
“Perly, you did good, even if you was beaten’ by my sister!” laughed Rufus.
Perly shrugged his shoulders. “I’d like to hear you spell the word acquaintance, or adventuresome. Anyway, the program is over and Susan won fair and square. The only word I want to spell right now is L-I-C-O-R-I-C-E!”
“Mm..mmm, now that is my kind of spellin’,” said Rufus.
As a reward, Mr. Markham announced that lunch and recess would be extended as promised. The sound of students cheering exploded from the clapboard schoolhouse. Everyone picked up their lunch tins and headed outside. Soon, the schoolyard filled with the sound of kids playing tag, catch ball, and jumping rope.
Perly and several other boys were playing tag when a movement from across the street caught his attention. A blur of motion disappeared behind a pillar of the Alhambra Saloon. Perly stopped to make sure he wasn’t just seeing things. Then he saw someone quickly disappear through the swinging door.
Whoever it was had been watching them from across the street.
~To be continued next week.~